- The Washington Times - Friday, September 11, 2020

The Department of Justice is supporting the Indianapolis Archdiocese’s firing of a gay teacher, describing the case before the state’s Supreme Court as a matter of leaving “religious decisions to religious organizations.”

The brief filed this week with Indiana’s Supreme Court by Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband supports a directive Archbishop Charles Thompson issued to a Indianapolis Catholic high school to terminate the employee for violating a “personal conduct” policy after marrying his husband in a civil ceremony. Justice Department attorneys write that the “First Amendment requires civil courts to refrain from interfering in matters of church discipline, faith, practice and religious law.”

The brief, also signed by John J. Minkler, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, invokes the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Our Lady of Guadalupe School, in which the majority upheld and even expanded the “ministerial exception” religious employers can invoke to be immune from typical employment regulations, including anti-discrimination protections, when those violate strongly held religious beliefs.

Joshua Payne-Elliott, a social studies and language teacher, sued the Indianapolis Archdiocese for employment discrimination in July 2019 in Marion County Superior Court. A month earlier, Cathedral High School fired him for marrying his male partner, also a teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. Brebeuf refused to fire Mr. Payne-Elliott’s husband, and the archbishop decreed the school could no longer call itself Catholic.

The Justice Department also filed a statement of interest supporting the archdiocese in the case in August 2019.

The Vatican has since suspended the archbishop’s decree, pending an appeal.

• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at cvondracek@washingtontimes.com.

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